Tag Archives: Faith

Compelled By Love & Shaken Free

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At this time in 2007, only 7 little years ago, my family had just taken a huge, scary plunge of faith. After thinking about it and praying about it and talking about it every which we way we could, we finally just did it. Patrick quit his job so we could work full-time with an international missions organization.

We’d raised some support, but not enough. We didn’t know for sure how we’d make our house payments. But detail after detail had lined up and prayers had been answered, and we just knew it was time to go all in. So he quit his job and we put all our time into calling and writing and visiting churches and getting our house ready to sell and packing up everything we owned.

During those months, a lot of people wondered why. Why would a man with six little kids quit a good-paying job? Why would we leave the community we loved? Why would we subject ourselves to poverty to do this? Why would we leave our network of support? Really, truly, I think many people wondered if we’d up and lost our minds.

The answer we gave then, and the only answer I can still summon, is we felt compelled by the love of Jesus. Patrick and I grew up in loving families, in the church, in relative comfort. We had each had little tastes of hardship, but nothing earth-shattering. We had been blessed with such advantage. And we knew from our own travels and from the stories of our friends that so many people in the world have not known the blessings we have known. Weighing especially heavy on our hearts were the stories of people who live feeling enslaved to and frightened of the spirits their culture worships. So many of these people live in constant terror and horrible oppression. We and our friends have heard their stories first-hand. And Patrick and I felt our hearts stretched and pulled to help these people experience the joy and freedom that can come from knowing Jesus.

And so we went. Though we had hoped to go somewhere far, far away and foreign, God aligned circumstances so that we only went so far as Florida. There, we lived in an apartment on the mission property and worked in the communications department of the home office, partnering with more than 3,000 missionaries around the world.

Our four years there were wonderful and awful and sweet and sad and everything good and everything bad all rolled up. We were disillusioned and encouraged and broken down and built up. Though we had traveled to foreign countries, it was our time there in Florida, living outside the Bible belt and among people who did not grow up in the protective casing of a church-going, Christian home, that truly expanded our view of the world and, really, our view of God Himself. Separately and together, Patrick and I found ourselves in conversations that challenged us to examine our beliefs and hold tightly only to the very core essentials, loosening our grasp on the things that were mere traditions and preferences.

As we were deeply hurt by believers, our co-missionaries, who held their pride and their right to be right more strongly than they held love, we grew angry. And then, layer by layer, God’s Spirit pointed out to my heart the ways I was guilty of the very same thing.

During our four years in Florida, we were completely shaken from every sense of security. In the very beginning, we had no strong friendships, no church family, no financial security. Then Patrick got very sick and almost died, and we spent more than a year facing a very uncertain future and praying for miracles and hoping for life and time. And I am not, by nature, a risk-taker, and I really don’t like heights. And for the last half of our time in Florida, I felt like our family  was walking on a very thin, very high bridge without a harness or safety net. Most of the time, I was either setting my focus on Jesus and clinging tightly to Him or I was nearly hyperventilating and feeling like my foot was about to slip off the bridge at any second and trying to remember to have faith.

And then, three years ago, as our fourth year in Florida was beginning to wind down, we wrestled with whether or not we should stay. Ironically, the decision we made because we felt compelled to make a difference in the world had taken us to a community of people who already knew Jesus. We knew people from church and Bible study and the mission organization. Those were our circles, for the most part. Though we certainly tried to show love and light to the homeless people in our neighborhood and the doctors and nurses we met and the people we communicated with through social media, our personal interactions with people outside our circles were limited — because of our finances, because of Patrick’s health, because we spent so much time in survival mode. We did not doubt that our work was important for our missionary partners in foreign countries, but we were no longer convinced that our service there was the best way to respond to the pull we felt on our hearts.

Add to all of that some serious misgivings about some situations involving our children and some major personality clashes with some of our co-missionaries, and we ultimately felt released from our work there and urged to move on to the next thing.

When we packed up for Florida in 2007, we were compelled to get a message of good news to people who were living in fear and holding tightly to traditions and beliefs that oppressed them and narrowed their world. We felt sorrow for these people who were afraid and who were performing to appease their spirits. As we packed to leave Florida in 2011, we realized that God had used our time there to free us from so many fears and to show us how we held tightly to traditions and beliefs and preferences that oppressed us and narrowed our world. He showed us how we often thought we could appease Him or please Him by performing the Christian act. He shook us from false senses of security. And He brought us to the freedom in Jesus that we thought we were going to show others.

Those lessons did not come easily. Like I said, it was awful and good and hard and sweet and sometimes dark and sometimes lonely and beautiful and scary and painful. But as we loaded up our stuff and headed back to Virginia, we came compelled by the love of Jesus to offer our light and love and service to our people here. And He has expanded our circles so very much! Sometimes I just cannot believe the wide circle of people God has given us to love and offer hope to! Three big public schools full of teachers and students, soccer teams, basketball teams, cheerleading squads, neighborhoods, a church full of teenagers and children, so many friends on Facebook and Twitter and this blog, rooms full of moms needing any bit of light and hope I can hold out, and on and on. So many people. And now I can truly offer a message of freedom and grace and love because I have been shaken free from all the other stuff; and when I try to grab back hold of it all, He gently shakes me free again. All I have to offer now is Jesus and His great love and mercy. This is all I know, and I am compelled by love to tell you.

If God urges you to take a giant plunge of faith, let me encourage you to do it. Take big risks for the sake of love. If He places a passion in your heart, pursue it. And if it seems like everything is falling apart, hang on. He may just be shaking off the traditions and fears and false securities you are holding onto so that you can hold onto only Jesus and His love and mercy.

Look Up ~ Reminder

Originally posted in April of 2013, but with all the awful things going on in our country & the rest of the world, I needed the reminder this morning. Maybe you do too. 

 

What a week, huh? Boston, Texas, Chicago sinkholes swallowing cars, Midwest floods, ricin-laced letters to the President from an Elvis impersonator, a bomb at a coffee shop in Iraq, and North Korea’s crazy talk. It can feel like the whole world has gone insane!

Personally, the past four weeks have been absolutely exhausting. A broken elbow, a cut head, having to find a new place to live, a broken van, a husband out of town for three of the four weeks, a busy schedule, a shooting at our local mall, school lockdowns, a husband in Boston on Monday two miles from the explosions, and now half the family has strep throat. Whew!

It can feel like everything is spinning out of control, like the bad is overtaking the good. When we’re watching the news on TV and watching the frightening scroll of our Twitter feeds and seeing link after link of scary stuff or horrific pictures on our Facebook pages, it can feel like the evil and sadness just keep coming in wave after wave.

Yesterday, as the ticker tape scroll of bad events of the past month played a continual loop through my mind, I thought – I bet this is what Peter felt like when he was walking on the water toward Jesus & then looked down! 

Matthew tells about this in chapter 14. In the middle of a very frightening storm, Jesus walked on the water toward his disciples’ boat. In faith, Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus — until he saw the wind whipping up the waves. When he set his focus on the storm, he was overcome with fear. He started to sink.

During weeks like this – or months like this – it’s easy to focus on the storm. To feel like the bad news is crashing against us like angry waves in a storm. To feel like the constant stream of negativity is beating us down, like tornadic winds whipping around us in every direction. It’s easy to feel like we’re sinking, about to drown.

But every time I start to feel that way — every.single.time — I get a reminder from somewhere — a text from a friend, a song on the radio, a posting on Facebook, a timely passage in my daily devotion book — I get a reminder to look up. Look up. Take my eyes off the wind and the waves and focus on Jesus. And when I do, peace gently washes over me and settles into the worry-crevices of my soul. And I do not feel the waves and wind beating against me. Instead, I sense His presence. His presence of peace.

Isaiah 26:3 is one of my favorite Bible verses – You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You. 

When I fix my mind on Jesus, perfect peace envelopes me. My troubled soul exhales and my body relaxes.

Are you feeling overwhelmed with bad news this week? Are you watching the news and feeling frightened and worried and like evil is winning? Can you feel the waves and wind beating you down, causing you to sink?

Look up! Fix your gaze on Jesus and keep walking.

My Heart Knows

originally posted in December 2011. 

Last night, I was singing to this boy, Jackson, at bedtime. I don’t often sing to them at bedtime any more.
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Sometimes we read. We hug and kiss. And we pray. Always, we pray. But I don’t often hold them and rock them and sing to them as I did when they were smaller.

But last night I did. I sang You Are My Sunshine and Jesus Loves Me.

And then I started in on Te-ell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue. And I will tell you just why I love you. 

Jackson leaned in closer against me and started humming along, singing a word every line or two. As I finished, I do be-lee-eve that God above created you for me to love. He picked you out from all the rest. Because God made you, I lo-ove you best, Jackson sighed and smiled up at me.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words, he said.

Tears sprang to my eyes. All the nights of holding a baby Jackson, whisper-singing that song to his tiny ears. All the nights of standing over a crib, patting his back, hushing his cries with this song. The naptimes I held his chubby toddler body and sang about God making the blue ocean and the climbing, twining ivy. The nights I cuddled in next to his preschool body, worn out from running and climbing and playing with his brothers, and I sang this song. All of that. All of it settled its way into his heart.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

Sometimes I feel that way about God. My heart, my soul responds to his song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

I see a beautiful sunset or the shadow of birds flying over a lake. I watch ducks bobbing along on the choppy water and feel the wind tickling my hair around my red cheeks. I sense His protection as that 18-wheeler swerves back into his own lane and the accident is narrowly averted. I sing that old hymn asking Him to bind my wandering heart to Him. I read a Psalm reminding me that I cannot flee from the Lord. I taste a juicy clementine. I see the redbuds blooming on the mountainside. I wake to my children’s giggles that turn to roaring laughter.

And my heart leans in closer to Him. Snuggles up against His side. And I hum along, unable to put it all in words.

My brain may not comprehend it all. I can’t explain it all in logical, scientific words. I can’t even explain it all in long, multisyllabic theological words.

But my heart knows this song. My whole life, my Father has been singing over me. And His song has settled its way deep into my heart.

Some days or weeks or months, I rush about or busy myself or go my own way. I don’t slow down and take time to sit with Him and listen to Him or maybe I even avoid Him, preferring to do my own thing for a while.

But when I finally do stop and listen, my heart sighs and leans in to the familiar tune. My heart knows that song.

Do you hear it? Does your heart respond? Do you lean in a little bit closer to Him? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fat, Fat Christian

Flashback Friday. I wrote this in October of 2007. 

We have become spiritual consumers. Perhaps we have become so steeped in the notion that we are consumers in all areas of our society, that it was inevitable for it to invade our spirituality. Nevertheless, we have become spiritual consumers.

 

Just look at your local Christian bookstore. Not only can we buy Bible studies on every facet of our lives, but we can buy Christian fiction that reinforces the things we learn in our non-fiction Bible study and self-help books. We can buy coffee table books with artwork based on scripture. We can buy t-shirts with our favorite Bible verse emblazoned on them. And we can buy every sort of Bible imaginable — old-fashioned translations, modern translations, hip paraphrases, the Bible in a sing-songy poem for our children, and the Bible in a magazine format for our teenagers. We can buy Bibles in soft leather, pastel suede with pretty butterflies in coordinating pastel suede, or in studious black hard leather that cracks to show how much it is used. As one missionary friend of mine said, we can even buy scratch ‘n sniff Bibles.

 

I’m not so sure about the scratch ‘n sniff, but it really is quite obnoxious how consumer-driven even the sale of the Bible has become. Especially when we consider that millions of people in the world don’t have one word of the Bible in their language, but that is for another posting on another day.

 

We gobble up books about our own spirituality and line our shelves with books about theology. We fill our iPods with music that expresses our spiritual beliefs and we fill convention centers to hear our favorite authors and musicians. We fill ourselves with teaching and exhortation and blessing. We consume, consume, consume.

 

We choose our church based on what we’ll get out of it. We tell our friends they have to come to this Bible study with us because we’re learning so much, getting so much. Rarely have I heard someone say, “I just love my church because I have so many opportunities to serve and give and spend myself for Christ.” Rarely have I heard someone say, “You must come to this Bible study with me. You have so much to offer there. It would be a great way for you to help groom someone else’s faith.”

 

No, we consume, consume, consume. Until we’re fat, fat babies, like that old song Amy Grant sang way back on one of her early albums. And to what end are we filling ourselves up?

 

My pastor said once that most of us are knowledgeable far beyond our obedience. We are hearers and studiers and even memorizers of the Word, but are we do-ers? Or do we just fill our minds with all sorts of knowledge — Greek meanings and cultural context and nifty facts? Do we hang up beautiful artwork from the Christian bookstore and listen to the latest Christian top-40 and wear the newest Christian slogan on our t-shirt? Or do we actually live out our knowledge? Do we obey that which we have learned?

 

And those of us who do not stoop to the base culture of wearing Christian t-shirts and hanging up pictures of the Last Supper can certainly quote C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias. We can tell you all about church history and debate 5-point Calvinism and describe the difference between a Zealot and an Essene. But do we put all this knowledge to good use?

 

I don’t think there is anything wrong with Beth Moore Bible studies and Women of Faith Conferences and books by Karen Kingsbury. I don’t think there is anything wrong with going to a Steven Curtis Chapman concert or buying the newest Casting Crowns CD. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Christian t-shirts or Thomas Kinkaide paintings or that cute mug with butterflies and flowers and a Bible verse painted on it. I just think we ought to be more than Christian consumers. I think that sometimes my stomach turns when I get a CBD catalog in the mail and see how commercialized my faith has become.

 

And, to be honest, I do get queasy thinking about a Purpose-Driven Life money clip or a WWJD day-planner. Somehow, I just don’t think God is all that impressed with all the Christian stuff we buy when we could be buying a slave’s freedom or buying an eleven year old out of a brothel or supporting a missionary who is translating the Bible into a language that didn’t even have an alphabet ten years ago. WWJD? I think Jesus would buy less bracelets and send more money to World Vision or International Justice Mission or New Tribes Mission.

 

So, for starters, I want to examine my heart — what is my attitude? my mindset? Am I consuming Christian culture the same way the world consumes secular culture? Am I fattening myself up with learning and exhortation just so I can be a spiritual couch potato, doing nobody else any good? Am I grooming my own faith just so I look good for the sake of looking good?

 

Or do I have a greater purpose in mind? Am I studying the Bible so that I can take that knowledge and go do something with it? Am I learning so that I can, in turn, teach others? Am I asking God to fill me so that my overflow can bless others? Or even better, am I trying to empty myself only to find God filling me as quickly as I pour myself out?

 

 

Parenting to the Heart

I wrote this in June of 2008. And I sure need the reminder today. 

Just in case anyone else needs this reminder right now too. . . 

This morning, in his Father’s Day message, our pastor mentioned that our parenting should not be about performance.  We shouldn’t discipline to our children’s performance; we should aim for their hearts.

Now, I know this.  I really do.  But sometimes I forget.  The past couple weeks I have been so tired and so overwhelmed with my to-do list.  I got way behind on laundry and cleaning a few weeks ago and because of travels and more laundry and some sickness I haven’t caught up yet.  The giant mess in my kids’ room and the overflowing laundry hampers stress me out.  Stress and exhaustion and six children in an apartment are not a great combination.  So I desperately needed that reminder this morning.

Even when I know better, it’s easy to fall back into the bad habit of performance-based parenting.  It’s especially easy when I’m stressed and tired.  “I want you to obey because I said so.  And I want you to obey perfectly.  And I want you to obey now.  And I don’t want to have to think about your intentions or your motives or showing you grace or how I’m supposed to be building you up and showing you overwhelming, unconditional love.  I just want you to obey so my life will be easier.”

When I’m tired and stressed, I get angry too easily.  And then I respond from anger and not from love and certainly not from the perspective of forming the character of my children.  I just am irritated that I’m inconvenienced and that I have more work and that I’m dealing with the same exact problem for the sixth time in the past hour.  And I forget that my irritability and horrible example will just result in more work as the same irritability and anger shows up in my children’s attitudes.

Duh!

So I needed the attitude adjustment this morning.  I’ll probably need it again tomorrow morning.  I’m slow that way.  Fortunately, I know from experience that the Holy Spirit will whisper reminders to me in the days to come.

Aim for the heart of my children.  Look for their motives and intentions.  Praise them liberally.  Don’t lump them all together and take out my frustration with one’s behavior on everyone else.  Show forgiveness quickly.  Look them in the eye.  Listen to them when they want to talk.  Have fun with them.  Laugh often.  Hug them.  Remember their ages and set my expectations accordingly.  Respond with love.  Expect mistakes and misjudgments and misbehavior; they are still learning.  Spend time remembering the moment each was born and the overwhelming joy I felt.  Keep in mind the Golden Rule.  Keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13.  Love them.  Love them.  Love them.  

 

#TBT ~ Distraction

A ThrowBack Thursday post for you. I wrote this in October of 2007

soccer4This was just before a game, but it happened in the middle of games too. 

Soccer season is winding down. We’ve had four children playing for the past month. The girls play on a team on Mondays and Wednesdays and two of the boys play on a team on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those Tuesday, Thursday games are quite entertaining. Kindergarteners and First Graders. If you haven’t had a good laugh in a while, go watch 5 and 6 year olds play soccer.

Last night, I stood next to a mother and father and we laughed for most of the game. Some of the children spent more time rolling around on the ground than standing up playing. At one point, three kids kicked at the ball. They kicked each other, but none of them made contact with the ball. One little boy is fascinated with the chalk lines on the field. He spends the majority of each game walking the lines, stomping and watching the chalk fly. Occasionally, he bends over and rubs the chalk with his hands, covering his palms in white chalk. One little boy was standing on the sidelines, waiting for his turn in the game when the ball came near. Quickly, he ran on the field and picked up the ball with his hands. He was so excited to touch the ball that he completely forgot the rules, nevermind that he wasn’t even supposed to be playing at that moment.

 

soccer3It’s important to stop for teammate hugs in the middle of a game. 

It reminds me of my older son’s, Caleb’s, first season. He played defender, which really means he stood around near the goal and his coach hoped he wouldn’t do too much harm while a couple little boys actually played soccer around him. Caleb loved to play in the dirt. He dug so many holes in the field that first season it looked like a groundhog had made his home there. Ever the class-clown, Caleb also loved to make his teammates laugh. So he fell down often. On purpose. Just to get a laugh. His favorite part of every game, though, was to lift his jersey up over his face and wave his arms wildly while screaming, “Who turned out the lights?” It was a sure-fire way to make his teammate Max double over laughing. All while the opposing team was racing past them with the ball ready to score a goal any second. Max’s competitive parents weren’t Caleb’s biggest fans.

Watching these little kids get so totally distracted from the game can be very funny. It does make me laugh to see the goalie climbing the goal posts or waving to his sister when he should be ready to defend the goal. They are little and they’re still figuring out the game. Their distraction is cute sometimes.

silassoccertotal cuteness

But I’ve been thinking. I tend to face life and my relationship with God the same way these little guys play soccer. And it’s really not funny or cute at all.

I have a tendency to get distracted. I watch the sidelines; I watch the other players; I obsess over whether my teammates like me. I focus on something totally unimportant, like the dirt or the chalk. I don’t keep my head in the game, so to speak.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Paul maintained his focus. He pressed toward the goal. He didn’t stop to play in the dirt or compare himself to his teammates. He didn’t stop to wave to his mommy on the sidelines or stare at the big dog somebody’s dad brought to the game. Paul did not approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. (I know, it’s a very deep, profound, theological thought. It will probably shock you that I haven’t been to seminary.)

I don’t want to approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. I want to maintain my focus. I want to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to press toward the goal. I want to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) I want to press forward to maturity and perfection. I want to keep my focus on Christ’s Kingdom.

How about you?

 

 

The Ripple Effect ~ Jodie’s Story

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I recently told you our house story. And I told you that the huge things God was doing in bringing us to this house don’t end with our family. I love how God ripples out the blessings when we tell other people what He’s up to in our lives! Throughout every step of finding this house, making the offer, and signing the contract, I was calling and texting my friend Jodie. In her own words, here is Jodie’s ripple-story —

This is a BIG day for our family! Husband sold his private eye care practice! It was such a beautiful, “only God could do this” blessing.

We opened this private practice when I was pregnant with B. Husband had been working at a Walmart near there on and off for several years, and had a client base established, so he decided to go for it and get a taste of private practice. It has been a lot of hard work, but has been very successful. We have learned a lot about running a private practice throughout our time there. But it’s been hard — it adds two hours to his day every time he works there, because of the drive.

We began praying about selling it and getting him off the road and home more often. A month or so ago, when the Hatchers were praying about their new home, I saw how God opened the doors so wide and blessed them in abundance in only the way He can.

Exhausted and stressed one morning, I prayed, “God, please do something BIG for our family. I mean like Hatcher Overhill House BIG! Something needs to change for our family.” I giggled as I prayed this as I’m sure it sounded hysterical. Well, Honey Child, the Lord not only heard me, He answered my HOHB (Hatcher Overhill House Big) prayer that very day!

Husband had called a few of the local doctors there about buying his practice. He had lunch with one who is known as a very shrewd business guy. He seemed interested, asked several questions and said he would get back to us. We never heard back. We thought that meant he wasn’t interested. Another doctor called him the morning I prayed and said he wanted to swing by and look at the office. He is a very nice man there who has 6 kids and somehow runs two optometry offices and farms! He walked into the office, asked Husband a few questions and said, “I’ll take it.” Say what?? Just like that. You want it?? Crazy! As those words were literally coming out of his mouth, Husband looked down at his phone and the other doctor was calling. He didn’t take the call then, but finished up with the doctor who was there. That man walked out, and then Husband immediately listened to the voicemail from the other doctor, who said “I talked to my partners and I want to buy your practice.” HELLO! Two offers in that same day. The same day I prayed my HOHB prayer! I felt God whisper to my spirit, “Was that big enough for you?” HA!

We were both thrilled, but panicked, because who the heck should we sell it to? The first doctor he met with expressed interest first, but we never heard back from him. The second doctor came in and said he wanted it on the spot. Husband didn’t want to burn a bridge with either one. They said they wanted it at exactly the same time. I said to Husband, “We just have to pray God will make it clear and give us wisdom. Just be very honest with both of them. People like honest.”

I prayed my heart out as he called both doctors. In our hearts, we wanted the 6 children dude to have it. Husband called 6 Kids Dude and told him the situation. He told Husband he wanted it and would have financing secure that night, if necessary, so he could buy. Whoa! Husband then called Shrewd Business Dude, who is not known for being the nicest guy in the world by any means, and that guy said, “You know, I have so much going on right now. Just let 6 Kids Dude buy it. If for some reason that falls through, call me and I will buy it.” WHAT? SHUT THE FRONT DOOR, PEOPLE! Unreal! Shrewd Business Dude then went on to give Husband a few really good tips about selling a practice. Hello!

The extra cool part is that 6 Kids Dude told Husband, “I just felt in my spirit I needed to come this afternoon.”

Jesus, you are so good to us. You hear us when we pray. I could just weep at God’s goodness and how He chose to show Himself to us in such a BIG way that day and throughout this process. It has been very smooth. They close today at 2:30!!

So, girls, if you have something in your life you are wrestling with. Something you need BIG answers to, just shout up my HOHB prayer and watch Him move!

I LOVE Jodie’s story!

So what BIG thing are you asking God for today? Just shout it up – “God, I need You to do something BIG! Like Hatcher Overhill House BIG!” And then come tell us your ripple-story.

 

The House Story

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You guys! I have been anxiously waiting to tell y’all this story for a while now. This is the house story. Oh, I love telling stories! And I am so glad God gave us a fantastic house story to tell for years to come. But if you know me, you know this won’t be a short story, so grab some coffee or a snack and settle in.

First of all, let’s back up a bit. Way back in 1999, we bought our first house. I was pregnant with Rachel, and Patrick had just started a brand-new job. We bought a much smaller and less expensive house than we were approved for because the job was so new and, besides, we just didn’t want to be house-poor. So we got this cozy little 1200 sq. ft. home that needed some work and had plenty of quirkiness. And y’all, we lived in that little 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house as our family grew and grew and grew — until 2007, when we had 6 children. We had just never had any peace of mind about moving to a larger home. And besides, I was having a baby every 15-20 months, so who had time to move!?!

Then we felt God’s directing us to move to Florida to serve with an international mission organization there. So we sold our house and moved to an 1100 sq. ft. apartment in Florida. But we had 3 bathrooms there, so there was that benefit! I’ll tell you the truth — because we had been in that tiny house, it was easier to move to the apartment. If we had ever gotten a larger home, I may have thrown a bit of a temper tantrum about giving it all up to move to that third-floor apartment.

So after 4 years in Florida, we felt drawn to leave the mission organization and come back to Virginia. We rented a large home in a nice subdivision with double the space we had had in Florida. It was a pretty home, but there were things we didn’t love about it. When the owner wanted to sell it and we didn’t want to buy it, we had to find another rental home. So we ended up renting this older home we’ve been living in for a year. It has a little more square footage, like 2600, and it’s in a fantastic neighborhood.

Back in February, we talked with our property manager about purchasing this home. The owner wanted to sell, so we started the process of buying it. We knew about some repairs we would have to make, but we were shocked when the inspection showed MAJOR foundation issues. We cancelled the contract with great disappointment.

That was a Thursday afternoon. Right away, I started looking for other homes for sale. And right away, I was discouraged. Early Friday morning I looked at the listings online again. After scouring the lists of all the houses for sale in our school district, I explained to Patrick that we just were not going to find the space we had here for the price we wanted to pay. We had an upper price limit, which would keep our mortgage payments about the same as our rent has been, and we were not going to go above that price. So I doled out the dose of realism, “Look, we just aren’t going to find a house with a living room, dining room, den, AND basement space for the kids in our price range. Let’s get our minds settled on that, and we’ll find something that we can be content with.”

As I was looking online that Friday morning, Craigslist Rentals kept popping into my head. Each time, I thought, “No, I don’t want to rent any more. I want to buy,” and I did not check Craigslist Rentals. Finally, after the thought had entered my head 3 or 4 times, I actually said out loud to myself, “Fine! I’ll check Craigslist For Sale!” But there were no homes there that were large enough and in our school district. So I continued to refresh Realtor.com.

When the Craigslist Rentals thought came to my mind another couple of times, I thought, “Hmmmm. Maybe there is a house on that listing I need to see. (sigh) Ok, I’ll check.”

Right away, I saw this house for rent one street over from where we are living now. The picture showed this smallish-looking brick ranch, but the description said 3800 sq. ft. “This has to be a typo!” I thought as I clicked on the pictures. But the pictures just kept going on and on and on.

You people need to know – I am not a bargainer or negotiator. When I go to a yard sale, I pay the price that is on the sticker. I don’t ask, “What will you take for this?” I don’t ask people to throw in this box of stuff with this other box of stuff. I just am not a wheeler-dealer. But that Friday morning, before I could think long enough to talk myself out of it, I called the number on the Craigslist Rental listing. When the man answered, I said, “I’m calling about the rental. Would you want to sell that house instead of renting it?”

He sort of stuttered around a bit and said, “Ummm, uhhh, well, no. Not really. I have a different house I am planning to sell this spring, but well, no, ummmm, no, I hadn’t really planned to sell that one. Ummm, well, why do you ask?”

Later, he would tell us that several people have asked him to sell this house, and he always said no. He didn’t even know why he asked me that question, the words just came out of his mouth!

I told him that I lived in the neighborhood and it wasn’t working out for us to buy the house we’ve been living in. I explained that we love this neighborhood and absolutely need to stay in this elementary school district. We chatted about the school because his daughter went there for a while and they loved it too. We talked for probably 20 minutes. Somewhere during that time I mentioned that we had moved here from Florida and that we chose this part of town because a very good friend of mine, Julie, taught at that elementary school. As it turned out, he and his wife know Julie. She had taught their daughter and they had become friends with her.

“Wait a minute!” he said, “You have a bunch of kids, don’t you?! Julie tried to get me to rent to you when you first moved back here, but I had a renter already. And she tried to get me to rent to you last year, but I still had a renter. I can’t believe this! Yes, you and your husband can come look at this house. I’ll talk to my wife. Now, I don’t know for sure we’ll sell it, but you can look at it.”

And that Friday evening, Patrick and I spent an hour and a half looking at the house and talking with this couple. We fell in love with the house immediately. The owner had completely remodeled the inside and finished the basement. Everything looked new and clean. We couldn’t believe it had been a rental for several years!

At some point, the wife looked at my husband and said, “Hey, did you have some health problems in Florida? I remember seeing on Julie’s Facebook page some prayer requests for a Patrick in Florida who had a bunch of kids and was really sick.” She had prayed for Patrick and our family four years ago, never knowing we’d be standing in her house wanting to buy it.

Finally, the man said, “Ok, tell you what. Y’all guys go home and talk about and think about it and if you want to buy it, make me an offer. We’ll go home and talk about it and decide if we really want to sell.” And we shook hands and got in our car. Make him an offer? Well, based on the prices of homes in the neighborhood and the style of the house and the size of the house, that left a realistic window of about $30,000 from low offer to high offer. That was a big window!

It was nearly 7:00 on a Friday evening. We knew this house would be a higher price than the loan we were already preapproved for, so I texted our friend at the mortgage company and asked when we might know for sure if we were preapproved for more, so we could know when an offer might even be possible. She texted back right away that she’d email me later. Within half an hour, she emailed the worksheets saying we were preapproved for our upper price limit of what we wanted to pay. It was 7:30 on a Friday evening!

Patrick and I talked and prayed that night and the next day. We agreed to meet the couple again on Sunday afternoon to make an offer. On Sunday, after we chatted a little Patrick told them our offer. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper saying, “Well, we talked about the amount we really would like to get out of this house, and earlier this morning I wrote down the amount on this piece of paper.” He unfolded the paper and it was the exact same amount we had offered! Exactly! Not one dollar difference! Out of all the dollar amounts in the $30,000 window of prices, we had come up with the exact same amount.

All four of us stood there with our mouths hanging open. Finally, he said, “Well, shucks! We don’t even get to negotiate and that’s my favorite part!” She said, “I guess we’re selling y’all this house.” They had been praying that if they were supposed to sell us the house, God would make it really clear to them. And He did.

The week I called to ask him to consider selling it, they were in the middle of installing a new roof. After we signed the contract to purchase the house As Is, they continued to make some improvements to the house because they thought it was the right thing to do. They wrapped the wooden window frames in white aluminum; they added more insulation in the attic; he installed some lighting; they mulched all around the house. Their teenage daughter even planted pretty pink flowers in a couple planters beside the front porch as a housewarming gift to us! Seriously, who does this!? What seller makes the house even better between contract and closing?

Every little detail lined up perfectly. Conversations and friendships and Facebook messages from years ago all played a part in this house becoming ours this week. And it doesn’t even end with us — because they are selling this house to us, they are most likely going to buy some land they have wanted for more than ten years. Because a friend saw God work so incredibly and obviously in this house situation for us, she prayed and asked God to do this same kind of huge thing for her family, and He did that very day!

I have learned to be content in whatever size house we have. I have learned to make whatever space we have a home for us. But oh what a treat that we get so much space and that it’s ready for us to move right in!

When the first inspection had that awful, bad news, I felt such despair and disappointment. But I had no idea that God had something so much better planned for us. So. Much. Better! And He’s been putting all the pieces in place for years – long before I knew we’d even be moving back here! Isn’t He amazing?

My heart is full and overflowing with gratitude.

 

 

 

Love – with all your broken, tattered heart, LOVE

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Jesus was pretty clear about what he wanted his followers to do — love God and love other people. Over and over and over in the New Testament, we’re reminded to do everything in love, to be rooted in love, to bear with each other in love, to put on love like clothing, to spur each other toward love, and to love in action, not only in words. Paul even says the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. And just in case we may not understand what love looks like, Paul spends a lot of time in his letter to the Corinthians describing what love is and what love isn’t — love is patient and and kind and protective and hopeful, but it is not envious or boastful or self-seeking or easily angered.

I know all this. I know that my main job is to love people. And I do love people. Or at least I try. But I’ll be honest with you – sometimes it’s just too much. I know loving people means my heart is supposed to be tender toward other people, but sometimes I feel like my heart is a big piece of meat that is constantly being beaten on by a heavy metal tenderizer. Because loving people means hurting with their hurts. And there is just so much hurt.

Right now, people in my circle of love are fighting cancer and nursing sick parents and looking for jobs and trying to hold broken marriages together. People in my circle of love are recovering from past hurt and learning to forgive. And some people in my circle of love are not recovering, not learning; they are hurting themselves and flailing and floundering, and I am praying enough life preservers are tossed so they can grab onto one. And loving all these people pounds and pulls at my heart until I feel so raw and ripped up.

So I pray and lay bare my broken, shredded heart before God. And when I am alone with God, I don’t even have intelligent-sounding words to pray. You know, sometimes my prayers are more like suggestions to God of how to fix the problems. But when love has made my heart so tattered, there are no words, no suggestions. There is only Oh, God, please help. I don’t even know. I can’t even imagine. Please, please help. 

In those groaning prayers, I find a little peace, a little comfort that God draws near the brokenhearted. Being near God fortifies me so that I can get back up and love some more.

There is the temptation to toughen up, to harden my heart a little, barricade it, protect it. There’s that self-preservation thing in me that suggests maybe I should keep people a little more at arm’s length, that maybe I could care and help and be kind without loving so daggone much. We’re afraid to love any more because it’s just so exhausting and painful and messy. But you know how things are always so upside-down with God? With him, the more we receive his love and then love others with his love, the less afraid we’ll be. Because perfect love drives out fear. So if I resist the natural urge to protect myself and go against my instinct and keep on loving, the fear will get smaller.

And loving people may keep my heart raw and broken, but if God is near to the brokenhearted, then broken is OK. It’s better than OK.

And so I pray for strength and stick-to-it-tiveness to keep on loving. I ask for help to not grow weary in doing the right thing, in keeping his command to love. And then I love. With all my raw, stretched-out, tenderized heart, I love. Because the only thing that counts is my faith expressing itself in love.

The Sunrise of Grace

 

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I love Easter. Resurrection. Hope. New life. Beginning. Overcoming. Love. All of that. I love all of that. And Cadbury eggs, I love those too.

I love that Easter is the sunset of Working hard and doing it myself and the sunrise of Jesus did it all for me. That’s it. When I wake up to the Easter sunrise each year, I am reminded all over again that it’s not up to me. And what a relief that is!

I know myself. I know the deepest, darkest, most unattractive corners of my heart. I know that no matter how many times I tell myself Today, I will not lose my patience. I will try hard and speak kindly no matter what grates on my very last ever-lovin’ nerve, I still lose it and feel annoyed and often, I act and sound annoyed. I know that no matter how many resolutions I make to do better, act better, be better, I fall back into old patterns and habits. No matter how many times I turn over a new leaf, my old self turns right back up. If it were all up to me, if a relationship with God or an address in Heaven were all up to me, then I would have no hope. No way would the good I do outweigh my every mistake and bad thought and selfishness and outright, willful sin.

That is what I so love about Jesus! He is all about loving people like me. Jesus knows we could never be good enough. He knows that no matter how much I try, I just can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and get my act together. And so Jesus came to be perfect and die and come back to life again. For me. As a totally free gift. Grace. Sweet, sweet grace.

The cross is the death of my working hard and trying to earn God’s approval. The cross is the end of my own efforts. On the cross, Jesus did for me what I couldn’t do. And Easter is all about giving up and receiving Grace. Easter is all about this new life, this living in Grace. Resting in Jesus, trusting that He is enough.

If you’re exhausted from all the hard work of trying to do it yourself, maybe you’d like to let all that die this Easter. Maybe you’re ready for the Easter sunrise of Grace, a new life of resting in what Jesus has already done. Or maybe you just need a reminder – stop trying so hard, as if it all depends on you; we’re living in GRACEland now, Friend.

Happy Easter!